Evidence-Based Domestic Violence Intervention Policy: A Research Guide

Individuals convicted of domestic violence in the United States are typically mandated to attend a course of treatment in lieu of, or in addition to, incarceration.  The type of treatment, also known as batterer intervention, is determined and regulated by each state.  In most states, it takes the form of a weekly psycho-educational same-sex group, from 1.5 to 2 hours per session, and for a duration of 16-52 weeks, with the average around 26 weeks.  While standards usually allow individual counseling in special cases, couples therapy is expressly forbidden in all but a few states. A majority of programs take a gendered perspective of domestic violence.

The most methodologically-sound research suggests that these programs are minimally effective in reducing domestic violence.  A primary reason is that unlike interventions for other social problems (e.g., substance abuse), domestic violence treatment policies have not been sufficiently informed by the body of empirical research.  A consensus has emerged, that for treatment to be effective it needs to be tailored to client needs, based on a sound assessment, in contrast to the standard “one-size-fits-all” models currently in existence. Below are some useful resources for anyone wanting to promote evidence-based policies in the field of domestic violence:

  1. Visit the website of the Association of Domestic Violence Intervention Programs (ADVIP) at www.battererintervention.org. Click on the link at the bottom left section of the home page (“click here for full articles and summaries”), or go directly to: https://www.domesticviolenceintervention.net/advip-2016-world-conference-findings/
  • Look for: Domestic violence perpetrator programs: A proposal for evidence-based standards in the United States.  Researched by 17 renowned domestic violence scholars, this is the most comprehensive review of the domestic violence intervention literature.  If time is an issue, read the summaries.
  • Also look for: A survey of domestic violence perpetrator programs in the U.S. and Canada: Findings and implications for policy intervention. This article, by John Hamel and Fred Buttell of Tulane University, reports on a recent survey of batterer intervention programs in the United States and Canada, and provides valuable insights by experienced clinicians.
  1. Read the excellent article by Canadian researchers Lynn Stewart and Claire Slavin-Stewart, Applying effective corrections principles (RNR) to partner abuse interventions. The RNR model is the gold standard for evidence-based interventions with incarcerated populations and general criminal recidivism.  The article was originally published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Partner Abuse, Volume 4, Number 4, in 2013, but is now available on the ADVIP website.  Click on the “Research” link, and then “Articles,” or go directly to: https://www.domesticviolenceintervention.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Stewart2013.pdf
  1. A thorough and up-to-date review of the literature on risk assessment instruments can be found in the article, Assessment in intimate partner violence: A review of contemporary approaches, by Tonia Nicholls and her colleagues. This is also available in the research section of the ADVIP website, and can be accessed directly at: https://www.domesticviolenceintervention.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Nicholls.etal2013.Manuscript.pdf

Also useful is:  Inventory of spousal violence risk assessment tools used in Canada,  available at:
http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/fv-vf/rr09_7/rr09_7.pdf

  1. Two states have already demonstrated the effectiveness of domestic violence intervention policies based on risk assessment – Colorado and Florida.
  • For information about research on the Colorado model, read: Gover, A. (2011).  New directions for domestic violence offender treatment standards:  Colorado’s innovative approach to differentiated treatment.  Partner Abuse, 2 (1), 95-120.
  • To read about research on the Florida model, read: Coulter, M., & VandeWeerd, C. (2009). Reducing domestic violence and other criminal recidivism:  Effectiveness of a multilevel batterers intervention program.  Violence and Victims, 24 (2), 139-152.

(You can get an electronic copy of either or both articles by contacting John Hamel, LCSW, at
johnmhamel@comcast.net)

  1. One of the most reliable and widely-used risk assessment instrument, the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA), is available from the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. For information and to watch the free training video, go to: http://odara.waypointcentre.ca/
  1. Another reliable and widely-used instrument, the Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk (B-SAFER), is available at: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/fl-lf/famil/rr05_fv1-rr05_vf1/rr05_fv1.pdf  The B-SAFER is a component of the Colorado risk assessment model.
  1. For an excellent discussion on how couples therapy can be a safe and effective treatment option, read: The trials and tribulations of testing couples-based interventions for intimate partner violence, by the notable researcher-practitioner Julia Babcock of the University of Houston. It is available at:
    domesticviolenceintervention.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Babcock2017.pdf
  2. Two examples of existing evidence-based programs for a psychoeducational group format are the Stop Domestic Violence Program by David Wexler, at: RTIprojects.org; and the Alternative Behavior Choices program by John Hamel, at: https://www.domesticviolencetrainings.org/evidence-based-batterer-intervention-program-client-manual/